Man has an ego. Stars have bigger egos. And superstars, let us not even talk about them. Some of them have people freely pandering to their egos. What is now happening to actor Parvathy, who has some riveting performances to her credit – such as the wheelchair-bound radio jockey in Bangalore Days, the nurse in Take Off stranded in Iraq's Tikrit in 2014, and recently as a single woman in the Irrfan Khan-starrer Qarib Qarib Singlle (where she was brave enough to refuse to lose weight for her role, come what may) – is nothing short of scandal.
Parvathy's voicing her disappointment with the misogynistic lines in the Malayalam superstar Mammootty's Kasba, a week ago at the Kerala International Film Festival, attracted the most vicious trolls.
But what to me appears tragic, even cruel, is the fact that not one actor – and this includes Mammootty – has condemned the kind of online abuses Parvathy has been getting, including threats to rape or kill her. (If someone had posted this kind of message against a political leader in today's India, he/she would have been jailed.)
And if the rest of India feels smug that this is essentially a Kerala issue, let me remind everybody that the same kind of online viciousness – which I think cowards indulge in on the internet because it affords a shield and anonymity – was seen some months ago in Chennai.
This is what I had written in these columns then: "When a journalist, editor-in-chief of The News Minute, Dhanya Rajendran, compared Vijay's 2010 movie, Sura (Shark) with Shah Rukh Khan-Anushka Sharma's flop film, Jab Harry Met Sejal, and said she found both bad, she was buried under a volley of highly distasteful messages on the net ostensibly from Illaya Thalapathi's aka Vijay's fans.
Rajendran wrote: "I had watched Vijay's Sura till interval and walked out. Jab Harry Met Sejal has made break that record. Could not sit till interval." An honest opinion, professional, nothing demeaning, and yet she came under fire. Sura was Vijay's 50th movie and the star plays a fisherman fighting a land-grabbing minister with Tamannaah as his companion. The film was abjectly boring as so many of these star-driven movies tend to be. Interestingly, every time I had been even vaguely critical of a Tamil star or his film, I have been roundly abused, called the nastiest of names and described as one who knew nothing about cinema, but was slavish enough to lap up every work the West produced.
Parvathy had voiced her disappointment with misogynistic dialogues in Mammootty's Kasba. Photo: India Today
Such abusive language appeared in the Hindustan Times as rejoinders to my reviews or in Asia Times to my opinion pieces on Tamil cinema. In fact, the Japanese editor-in-chief of Asia Times was at one point of time quite disturbed by such uncouth messages, and he tried deleting them. But then since I belonged to the male of the human species, the remarks from fans were not sexist. And in Rajendran's case, the kind of trolling by fans - who seemed to dip their darts into the most venomous of poisons before taking a potshot – is a crime that is as cowardly and dastardly as stalking a woman or molesting her."
And Vijay did not ask his fans to shut up. Many days after Rajendran was lambasted, he came out with a wishy-washy statement. And Mammootty's behaviour now is running parallel to Vijay's . In fact, at the Festival, Parvathy tried to be impeccably decent in her speech. She said she was disappointed when she saw a Malayalam superstar mouthing "cringe-worthy and misogynistic lines" in one of his movies. Fellow actress Geetu Mohandas, who was also part of the panel, encouraged Parvathy to name the film. She did. And the internet went on an overkill.
Mammootty's fans and even men from the industry began dishing out online threats – conveying in no uncertain terms that a woman, especially, had no business criticising an actor. And no way if that actor happens to be a senior superstar. Unfortunately, south Indian cinema industry appears to be getting over-protective towards its male stars – almost obsessively so. Apart from Vijay and Mammootty, we have seen such poison-dripping darts being aimed at those who were critical of Malayalam actor Dileep.
He has been charged with plotting the rape of a well-known Kerala actress. He is now out on bail, and has been having a gala time in Dubai – opening a branch of his restaurant and winning the sympathy of those in the Emirates. His mother tagged along with him, probably to convey that her son had her blessings and could never have done what he is accused of.
There are times when I reflect on the actors of days gone by. I can never imagine a Sivaji Ganesan or a Gemini Ganesan or a Dileep Kumar or a Dev Anand or a Raj Kapoor turning the other way when their fans were heaping insults on critics. Did these stars not have their share of tension and competitive spirit? They certainly did. But they also had culture and dignity, and would never allow their admirers to abuse, especially women.
What is more, cinema is hugely influential, particularly on the young mind. And actors cannot shirk their responsibility. They have no business saying something uncouth. Superstars rule cinema. They can very well tick their directors/scriptwriters if there is a need. Now, I am READY for the abuses to hurtle like an avalanche!